‘Green’ Street: Unofficial is the year’s biggest party

Josh Birnbaum

By Danielle Gaines

“The best day of the year.”

“Just an excuse to get plastered.”

“A black eye to the University.”

Many words have been used in the Daily Illini to describe Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day – the most visible and most debated “holiday” on campus.

The upcoming month of March will mark the 11th anniversary of Unofficial on campus. Scott Cochrane, president of Cochrane Enterprises, invented Unofficial in 1996. Because the actual St. Patrick’s Day holiday falls during the University’s spring break, students needed a way to celebrate the Irish holiday together, Cochrane said.

Cochrane is the owner of several campus bars that celebrate and promote the holiday including the Clybourne, Firehaus and C.O. Daniels. For the 2006 Unofficial holiday, the facade of C.O. Daniels was even transformed into an Irish flag.

“I love it,” Cochrane said earlier this year. “You see kids walking down the street wearing green, white and orange. It’s our own holiday, the biggest St. Patrick’s celebration (in town).”

The abundance of celebrators on Unofficial is one of the factors that catapulted the University into the No. 4 spot on the Princeton Review’s Party Schools list in 2004. The University was no longer on the top 20 list of party schools published in 2006.

Unofficial could be considered THE celebration on campus, similar to Halloween at UW-Madison, Palmerfest at Ohio University, and Dillo Day at Northwestern University.

Like these other celebrations, Unofficial is generally marked with heavy alcohol consumption and parties. Businesses like Te Shurt, 711 S. Wright St., are backed up with orders for green shirts weeks before the event and local businesses report record sales on that night.

With the good also comes the bad, though.

At last year’s Unofficial celebration, police issued more than 100 alcohol-related citations. A University alumna who was visiting town for the festivities was killed in a motorcycle accident. Severe damage was done to the men’s and women’s bathrooms in Foellinger Auditorium and overhead projectors in Lincoln Hall Theater were vandalized with spray paint.

Chancellor Richard Herman released a statement in April denouncing the event and committing the University to finding ways to curb involvement in activities.

“Quite simply, this event is not worthy of our students, our campus, or our community,” he said.

According to the statement, the University is working with the cities to end the event. Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart removed Cochrane from the city’s liquor advisory commission and created an Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day Task Force. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing is exploring ways to pass the cost of the event onto bars that support festivities.

Still, good or bad, the event seems like it will be here to stay for the time being.